A former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, Thursday, told a Federal High court in Lagos that he was not guilty of all the 40 counts of money laundering instituted against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The trial judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, fixed March 10, 17, 18 and 19 for the trial.
The EFCC is accusing Mr. Fani-Kayode, who was also a former Minister of Culture and Tourism, of money laundering. The commission had amended its 47-count charge, totalling N230 million, to a 40\-count charge of N100 million.
According to the EFCC, one Mark Ndifreke, a former aide who is now at large, had deposited various amounts of money running into tens of millions into Mr. Fani-Kayode’s bank account while he was a serving minister.
Other aides such as Florence Salau, Ojo Agbor, Daniel Atogo, Supo Agbaje – all of whom are still at large – had also deposited millions of naira into the former minister’s bank account, the EFCC said.
The anti-graft agency also accused Mr. Fani-Kayode of using his wife, Regina, and his daughter, Remilekun, as a conduit to launder millions of naira.
Mr. Fani-Kayode’s trial has seen three judges and four re-arraignments since 2008 when he was first brought before Justice Ramat Mohammed on a 47 count of money laundering.
Following Mr. Mohammed’s transfer, in 2012, out of the Lagos Division, Justice Binta Nyako, took over the case. Mrs. Nyako was subsequently moved out of Lagos in 2013.
“This matter has been on for so long. I can’t take a date that is convenient for you, you have to take a date that is convenient for the court,” Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia told the prosecution counsel on Thursday.
The trial had suffered several delays as both the defence and prosecution had filed a plethora of applications which had delayed actual trial.
In 2013, Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia had barred the defence, led by Festus Keyamo, from prosecuting the former minister until a prosecution fiat from the Attorney General of the Federation was tendered before the court. The judge’s decision was based on the defence team’s application seeking the prosecution to provide evidence that they got the nod from the Attorney General to prosecute Mr. Fani-Kayode.
Mr. Keyamo had reacted by seeking the transfer of the trial to another judge.
“The Supreme Court has said it again and again that it is bizarre when a lawyer appears before a court and the judge asks ‘where is your letter?” Mr. Keyamo had said in his letter to the Chief Judge seeking the transfer of the trial to a fresh judge.
He later produced the fiat, dated June 24, 2013, after the Chief Judge declined his request.
“We believe this is a ploy to perpetually keep the accused in court,” Olawale Akoni and Ifedayo Adedipe, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria and Mr. Fani-Kayode’s lawyer, had said.
In February, the judge ruled that Mr. Fani-Kayode be re-arraigned after she dismissed the defence’s application challenging the competency of the charges against their client.
On the day of his re-arraignment, Mr. Fani-Kayode’s lawyer raised another objection to the amended charges stating that they were “vague” since they did not disclose the person from whom the money was accepted. The judge overruled the objection saying that it “lacked merit and should not have been raised in the first place.”
On Thursday, Mr. Fani-Kayode sat patiently in the dock as the court registrar slowly read out all the 40 counts of money laundering against him. He responded “not guilty” to all of them.